★★★★★ - STUFF
- Having already been sentenced to five years imprisonment for stabbing someone, Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) is now back in court.
But this time he's the plaintiff, attempting to sue his parents "for giving me life".
A shocked courtroom then hears details of how the young Syrian refugee was tasked with persuading pharmacists to fulfil multiple prescriptions for drugs like tramadol, then helped crush the pills before peddling the resulting "special juice". While dutifully carrying these assignments, Zain is increasing concerned about the fate of his Sahar (Cedra Izam). The local grocer has shown a disturbing interest in her.
But despite Zain's best attempts to hide her coming-of-age, Sahar is "sold" to the man as her bride. Outraged, Zain boards a bus in the hope of starting a new life. However, he quickly finds that the streets of Beirut aren't exactly paved with gold.
Following her heavily symbolic but lighter tales Caramel and Where Do We Go Now?, Lebanese director Nadine Labaki's third foray behind the camera (she also acts as one of the film's five screenwriters) is one of the most compelling and haunting slices of cinema you're likely to see in 2019.
A kind of a cross between Italian neo-realism tales like Bicycle Thieves, the grimy and sometimes grim tales of US auteur Larry Clark (Kids, Bully) and brutal Brazilian favela drama City of God, Capernaum features some stunning performances from its cast of predominantly young novice actors. A Syrian refugee whose earlier real life apparently shared some similarities to his character's, Al Rafeea is mesmerising as our troubled young "hero" experiencing poverty, privations and adult situations no tween should be forced to endure.
Labaki captures it all (including some heartbreaking and harrowing decisions) with an unblinking camera which will leave you shaken and stirred. A story strand involving Zain's encounter with an undocumented Ethiopian woman and her baby is particularly powerful.
A deserved winner of the Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Capernaum is also in the running for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at this month's Academy Awards. Ironically it's up against another critically acclaimed "family drama" in the latter, the more highly fancied Japanese entry Shoplifting. But while that's perhaps a less-challenging watch, Capernaum is the one that leaves a greater emotional impact.
- James Croot, STUFF